Natsume's Book of Friends season 6
Natsume Takashi continue to meet yokai while also socializing with his friends. Sometimes, that creates problems that needs to be overcome.
Read that synopsis and then check out the star rating on the right. Seems odd, doesn't it? I admit I made that synopsis as basic as I could, because in one way, that's basically all Natsume's Book of Friends really is. Then again, since this is the sixth season, I'm probably just preaching to the choir, because if you're all here, you already know and love this show just as much as I do, and you are probably already perfectly aware of what I'm going to say next.
....generally speaking, that is. As most slice-of-life shows roll, it's really hard to write something of a compelling synopsis when a show gets to be six season strong, but that honestly should speak for itself when you have a show that has no clear goal; no big evil to destroy or treasure to unload "look forward" moral lessons on you. Natsume is a teenager whose sole goal seems to be to obtain some level of happiness for himself, as that was in rather short supply during his childhood. At the same time, Natsume's Book of Friends has been slowly but steadily catching up to its manga source; in fact, a lot of the stories in this season has been based on the latest manga volumes I've picked up from Viz. Granted, I don't know for sure if the US releases has kept up with the Japanese, but the latest volumes has slowed down considerably from the steady pace of the first ten or fifteen volumes, so I'm assuming they have.
As if seemingly aware of its own progress, the first episode is centered around Natsume helping a yokai with a minor problem, and as a reward gets changed back into a child without as much as a "by your leave". But while Nyanko-sensei tracks down the culprit of this "help", Tanuma and Taki become the perfect indication of how far Natsume has come. With his childhood returned, so is his memories from early adulthood taken away from him, and now he doesn't recognize any of them. I was anxious at first -- that filler OAV from the last season had left a rather bad taste in my mouth, as has... *cough* ...certain earlier filler episodes -- but this episode, despite its (probably) filler status, turned out to be a real gem, with Natsume attempted to be lead out of the house protected with wards and into the waiting arms (or mouth?) of a couple of sceming yokai. The episode really sells the uncertainty of Natsume's childhood just as much as earlier flashback segments, while at the same time confirming what kind of bonds he shares with his friends, yokai or otherwise, now. The show has done this before, of course, but any new facets to this ever-growing, multi-colored ball of yarn is always welcome.
Much to my delight, this season also featured a lot of my favorite manga chapters as well. The stone washer story was there, as was the story about Natsume and Natori helping out with an old exorcist family whose working member had lost his ability to see yokai. And like with the episode about Touko and the crow in the last season, this season also gives us sweet asides about the support cast by introducing us to the families of Nishimura and Kitamoto, Natsume's still-in-the-dark friends at school, and the problems each of them face at home and the way it has influenced their personalities. I'm not sure if I should think of it to Natsume's Book of Friends's credit or not, but this season also featured a story arc where I wasn't sure whether it was a filler or not, and it turned out not to be so. Finally, to round off this season, the show goes for the story arc where Natori brings Natsume (on Natsume's urging this time) to a house that used to belong to a renowned exorcist that had recently passed away as sort of a treasure hunt for the knowledge that he had amassed throughout the years. The episode also serves as a turning point for Natsume himself -- two, actually -- that I won't spoil here, but serves as a rather strong "what will happen now?" point going forward from here. Would I have preferred a more laid-back ending to the season, like the ones we've gotten earlier? Definitely, especially since this might end up being the last season we get, but this is not bad either.
I'm not sure if I've mentioned this earlier, but the manga art is partially good. I particularly love how Yuki Midorikawa's character art has this gentle, wisp-y feel to it, and the anime has been very good at tranferring it to the screen. I say "partially" because, going through the manga, I've also learned that background art is definitely not her strong suit. There are the occasional bus stop shed or building parts, or even stone-filled areas nearby rivers that are drawn in great detail, so it's not like she can't draw these, but their presence in the manga are spartan at best, and downright absent at worst. So to see these painted in exquisite detail here is an odd, yet delightful experience. This isn't really a knock against the manga, though, because despite this spartanness, I still love reading it, but I'd like to give the anime some props anyway for having all this wonderful background art. On the flip side, the animation quality isn't the best. It's a quiet show in general, so there's a limit to how much it can be hurt by simple animation, but the last couple of episodes here looked particularly cheap, even compared to earlier episodes, more so compared to earlier seasons. It never gets trult awful, though, so I don't consider it a too hard knock on the show itself.
Musically, the show is as nice as ever. I haven't been overly fond of its opening themes, however, so season 6 might even be a bit special in that it has an opening theme I thought was pretty nice. They generally don't hold a candle to the ending themes, though, and thankfully, this season also delivers the goods here with a wonderfully ambient ballad that really twist the knife given how highly an emotional crescendo the episodes will build up to half the time.
Season 5 was a particularly strong season, and this one was announced even before it was done. Despite its ups and (very mild) downs, Natsume's Book of Friends has been one of those shows I've pretty much went into with the faith that I wouldn't be let down in any particular way, and it certainly held up its side of the bargain. Season 5 is still my favorite -- it had a particularly strong lineup of what I considered the best manga chapters -- but season 6 was so close in quality, I see no reason to award it anything less than top marks.
Still able to make you smile. Still able to gouge you straight in the heart whenever it wants to as well, and with frightening efficiency. And you'll still love it for it too. — Stig Høgset
Recommended Audience: Like I mentioned in all other earlier seasons, the show does have some scary moments of people -- mostly the main character -- threatening with being eaten, but outside of some lightly violent moments both slapstick and not, it's not a particularly nasty show.
Version(s) Viewed: Digital stream on Crunchyroll, Japanese with English subs.
Review Status: Full (11/11)
Natsume's Book of Friends season 6 © 2017 NAS, Shuka.
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